Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy 29th Birthday, Bit

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Westcoast Feast at The Salmon House

The venerable North Shore institution The Salmon House on the Hill (with about as good a view as you can get from here, with food to match) along with its sister restaurants, had been advertising it's West Coast Feast 3-Course Dinner for $30 (an additional $25 for wine pairings) so Fumiyo and I decided to check it out. My meal began with an Alize Passion cocktail. I had such great luck with passion fruit in a cocktail at Tokyo City Hall recently, I thought I'd try it. Amazingly good. Even Fumiyo enjoyed it.

My appetiser, the Local Forest Mushroom Saute with porcini mushroom ravioli. The people next to us told us to order it. It was very earthy, very filling. Maybe too filling for my tiny appetite. A good red wine accompanied it but I didn't note its name.
Fumiyo suggested I get another cocktail so I ordered the house special, the Salmon House Crantini. I've had much better luck in Vancouver with cranberries as a cocktail ingredient than I have with the whole "martini universe." I've never had a cocktail between courses before and thank Fumiyo for the suggestion. The drink was light as well as tasty (Fumiyo also approved) and it gave the mushrooms time to digest before the prawns arrived.

When she wasnt sampling my cocktails, Fumiyo was enjoying her Cauliflower and Roquefort Soup with Smoked Salmon Foam. The bite I had tasted cheesy, like a really good French Onion Soup.
The main reason I wanted to try the West Coast Feast was to try this, Rack of Prawns with yuzu
Marinade, Pea Shoots and Lemon Risoto. I really enjoyed the smokiness of the prawns. It took awhile before I found the yuzu taste. Yuzu is the best thing that has ever come out of Japan and I've enjoyed it in many dishes and drinks (you also bathe in it for the holidays in Japan). I figured they must have marinaded the prawns for a long time. I felt I was in a forest of smoked trees and after much digging, found the buried treasure, the yuzu flavour. The pea shoots and lemony risotto were an admirable accompaniment and the wine pairing wasn't bad at all.
Fumiyo is seen here feasting on the Seared BC Salmon Chop, Honey Truffle Glaze and Micro Green Salad. The taste I had was excellent. Fumiyo said the simple grilled salmon she makes is better, for her tastes. As we were discussing the food I had in Japan, Fumiyo speculated it wasn't that the food I had was so bad, it's that my palate is so much more refined now than 4 years ago and what used to be good no longer meets my heightened standards. Maybe true, maybe not, but the Denny's hamburger I had this trip would kill a cockroach.
Lemon Cheesecake Tartlet, Blueberry Compote, plus pretty design. Pastry not so good. Desert wine was.
Fumiyo had the Vanilla and Roast Peach Custard, Plum Coulis, Arborio Rice. Too ricey, even for her. But all in all, a fine meal for the money.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Deuce is a widely advertised new restaurant about 5 blocks away from my house in North Van. I tried their scallops on my way back from seeing the Simpsons movie (superb!) a few monthes ago. While there at that time, the duck on the menu looked very interesting and I wanted to go back to try it. By the time I finally came back, this time with my duck-loathing friend Terry, the duck had metamorphised into a Duck Twofer. Terry ordered the salmon on a stick, oddly called Corn Dogs. While awaiting our meals, I ordered a Pom Cosmo. The Blackberry Mojito I had with the scallops wasn't very good. The vodka overwhelming my favourite fruit. This however, was excellent. Pomegranate is a joyous ingredient. You want to turn into Van Morrison and start serenading its soulfull pundency. The vodka taste crept away to hide under a rug like communism in Russia in 1989.

We noticed the word "muddled" on the cocktail menu. I'd seen it on cocktail menus before and noticed an ad for a "muddling spoon" in a food mag I picked up the other day. What is "muddled" we asked our server Amanda. She showed us the muddler and demonstrated its use. Mortar and Pestal imagery rather than spoonery, at least to me. Terry noticed that the two servers were dressed alike. I assumed it was the restaurant's uniform. Terry figured it had to do with the name of the place, two identically dressed women for Deuce. Then a third server showed up in the same get-up. A trace? While enjoying my pommy cocktail and the muddling demonstration, we were treated to a long set of Van Morrison tunes. His music became an ingredient, an enjoyment magnifier.

Terry was insulted that his divine salmon was called a Corn Dog. A disservice both to dogs and corn. On the menu it said salmon in tempura batter so I was expecting some serious batter issues . Nope. Even the tartar sauce was inventive and smothered on the salmon was almost an act of fish-worship. I required a glass of wine to begin my duck revery and foolishly asked for a glass of white. Amanda reccommended a glass of Yalumba, which did indeed slide smoothly about my mouth full of salmon, but when I tried it with the Duck Twofer, serious disaster.

Duck "Twofer"1. cherrywood smoked duck, blackcurrent port poached pears, goose berries, chives
2. shredded duck confit, caramelized apples, roasted onions, Okanagan goat cheese herb tart
additional pieces $2.5/each
OK, I tried the port pear duck. It was far too gamey for my tastes, even after cutting the fat off. With white wine, it was bordering on lethal. The Herb Tart however, was the best duck I've eaten in Vancouver. The only duck I've ever had better was cooked by my friends The Petries in Washington DC; see the first posts on this blog from May, 2005. Terry said it tasted like Christmas. I wondered if that was from the sage in the tart or its resemblance to short bread. It felt like a vast fiesta breaking out in my mouth. The cheese went so well with the onions (unlike the otherwise great walla walla onion with the scallop and tomato tasting menu we had at Rain City Grill the previous Sunday) it made me consider the whole idea of ingedients in a new way. Christmas presents aside, Terry found the duck chewy but that didn't bother me, particularly with the tooth-clinging quality of the pastry. I wondered if the two dishes were made with the same duck? Would a different cheese alter the dish significantly? A different apple or onion? Whoever came up with this bite of divinity really knew what they were doing. This wasn't serendipity. The cherrywood duck sounded great on paper but tasted terrible. Even Christmas Duck took a dive into serious badness when I paired it with the Yalumba white. I had to immediately cleanse my palate with ice water (the diner's best friend).

A deuce of frozen grapes. Kinda zen, kinda not.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Old and the New

My father celebrated his 90th birthday on Oct. 4.

Our frequent dinner companions and extended family members Krista and Dino became parents to twins on Oct. 10th.

One of the twins appears be have devoured Fumiyo's finger.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Heirloom Tomato Tasting at Rain City Grill

I first encountered the term "Heirloom Tomatoes" in a recipe I made recently, blending the oddly coloured tomatoes (I found at Vancouver's only Whole Foods, conveniently located accross from my parents' place in West Van) with Burrata cheese and some basil from my garden. When I saw Rain City Grill advertising its 100 Mile Menu Heirloom Tomato Tasting, I knew where Terry and I would be dining this past Sunday night. I had eaten there once before and remember it more for the price than the food. This meal would be different.
The ever-informative server informed us that everything on the menu was from within 100 miles of the restaurant, except the salt and the wheat in the dilled flatbread. Terry explained that he grew organic wheat but his farm was 700 miles away, in case they're looking for another source. Terry had the price fixe early meal while I indulged in tomato heaven, beginning with tomato chips and herbed "Little Qualicum Cheeseworks" fromage frais, paired with a glass of Chalet Estates Bacchus. I was expecting something like potato chips. Instead, the chips were dried tomato slices. Each tasted different, and all were magnificently magnified with the herbed cheese, as was the dilled flat bread. A forest of herbs to feast on.

Next up for me was heirloom "carpaccio" with pepper cress and pickled Agassiz garlic but NOT the begonia vinaigrette on menu. Instead, rose honey, its sweetness nicely moderated by a glass of Gary Oaks Pinot Gris. The server described the luscious tomatoes as Yellow Taxis (big and small), Cascades (red) and Sun Golds (which look like cherry tomatoes). The crisp garlic chips also complemented the tomatoes perfectly. I told the server the first Cascade tasted like bread. Ok, very good bread but still bread. She said no one had ever made that comparison to her before. The Pinot Gris had a strong aftertaste of grapefruit. It was so good I had another glass with the tomatoes. I had one of the sun golds on top of a section of the large taxi and was another amazing combination.

Terry's Yellow Beet Soup with arugula, smoked paprika and creme fraiche had an earthiness, in the spoonfull I tried, that was intriguing. Unlike anything Terry had tasted before. Not at all like borscht, one of my favourite kinds of soup. I had a yellow beet soup from Les Amis de Fromage recently that wasn't nearly as good as this.

Terry's seared Pacific wild salmon, wheatberry, eggplant and kale saute.
Whole roasted Cascade tomato, California bay leaf confit, Vancouver Island scallops, Walla Walla onion, charred eggplant, tomato epazote glaze, with a glass of Alderlea Pinot Gris. The scallop works when eaten with the tomato, a bit difficult to cut, and then swirled around in the glaze.
The onion was the best onion I've ever tasted, when mixed with the other things. By itself, not so much. The scallop seems to liquefy in my mouth when properly mixed with tomato and onion.

Grilled Polderside chicken, tomato and bread salad, crispy "Oyama" pancetta, sweet corn puree and tomato jus, along with a glass of Gary Oaks Pinot Noir. The red wine worked superbly with the grilled chicken, I think because of the chicken's slightly burnt flavour. The pancetta's crispness contributed to that winning mix. There was a tiny piece of tomato, not what you'd expect in a tomato tasting event. Whoever Polderside is, their chicken is better than Nu's (or is it the same chicken, just cooked so very differently from the Ballantine I had a few days before?). As I ate a big piece of chicken with a small piece of tomato, it felt like I was rising into the air, like a balloon, but instead of helium, I'm filled with the goodness of the meal. The bread "salad," on the other hand, is just a piece of garlic bread with some green stuff on it and was wasted with the chicken. The tomato also didn't taste like the heirloom wonders I'd been feasting on. It tasted so ordinary.

Milan's sungold and apricot granita, candied tomatoes and mascarpone with a glass of Venturi-Scholze Brandenburg No. 3 desert wine. Tasted too much like ice cream, which I generally loathe. Are those supposed to be apricots? Didn't taste like them to me. The candied tomato had no tomatoness whatsoever. The grapes were good, but so what? That's what the wine is for. Maybe the worst desert I've had in a "good' restaurant in Vancouver. It would have been unedible without the wine.

Terry was much luckier with his bittersweet chocolate and cherry cake.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Comfortably NU

I've been immersed in history recently, while watching the German TV flicks Heimat, 1 & 2 and Ken Burns' new series about WW2. Both the German flicks and The War intersperse colour and BW footage in intriguing ways. Both cinematic experiences flashed me back to the world of my parents (WW2) and grandparents (Heimat 1). Possibly remembering my Viennese grandmother's apple pastries, I ordered an apple-soaked starter at Nu restaurant this week. I'd been wanting to go there since the local news reported that Nu was rated one of the top restaurants in the world by a British magazine. Steph had been there before, and described it as something out of The Jetsons. I had studied the menu on line, and thinking about the Wine Poached Pear, the Crab fritters or the Lobster Cocktail. The server told me the lobster dish was just a shrimp cocktail only with lobster, hardly haute cuisine. I took her suggestion and ordered the scallops, pork and 3 presentations of apples. Apple covered pork chops being a family fave, I knew apples and pigs go together sublimely but would the scallop work as well? Actually it was kind of hard to find the scallop flavour in all the pork/apple goodness but actually it wasn't missed.

Steph had had the stuffed chicken wings here before and was about to order them again when I convinced her to order something new. She went with the Gruyere soup. The taste I had was astonishing. If you love cheese as much as I do, this is your soup. Much as I loved my pig/apple concoction, I wished I'd ordered the cheese soup instead.

Because the chicken at Diva at the Met is the best meal I've had in Vancouver, I figured we must be getting some great chicken in Vancouver these days, and if this is a world class restaurant, their chicken should be just as good as Diva's. Just as the best tonkatsu restaurants in Tokyo loudly proclaim where their pigs are from, restaurants here are doing the same with their meats. It was nice to know the chicken that died to make this Ballontine had a happy life. I had to ask what a Ballontine was and the server told me it was, to quote Wikipedia, "a piece of meat that has been stuffed, then rolled and tied in a bundle, then poached or braised." This Chicken Ballontine came with cranberries, apple sauce and sage stuffing. Eating it, I felt like I'd just sat down to dinner with Ebeneezer Scrooge after he'd learn to love Christmas and spending money. Certainly the Christmas/Thanksgiving (Oct 8 in Canada) taste reference was intentional, though chicken tastes like turkey would taste if it were any good. Like the Diva chicken that flashed me back to the first time I'd eaten chicken, this meal summoned forth memories from distant childhood (before my family started eating meat). Maybe it was the sage. My siamese cats used to play in the hills behind our house and come home smelling of sage. This was comfort food at its best.

Steph went with the beef tenderloin. The bite I tried was both delicious and intriguingly textured. In my experience of fine restaurants in this town, its hard to find really good beef anywhere and then anything interesting done to it- the one exception being the Beef Sashimi at Zen restaurant in West Van. This was much thicker than the properly thin Zen Beef and more in the way of an attempt at new tastes than the Zen meal. Does that mean Zen and Nu are buying beef from the same supplier? More likely, it means there are more and more sources of top of the line beef in town for its chefs to experiment with.
Yes, that's a glass of white wine next to Stephs' beef. It worked for her. Why should we be imprisoned by the red wine=beef, white wine=seafood pairings we're used to? The restaurant after all, is called Nu.

For desert, I stayed in Tiny Tim-land and ordered the plum pudding with even more sage, and a tiny glass of the desert wine Sequentia. Perfectly paired. Considering how much apple was in my previous two courses, I was expecting the plum in the pudding to come out and introduce itself on my tongue. No, it was traditional plum pudding. Charles Dickens would recognize it, and promptly write a new novel in its honour.

Steph had the passion fruit pavlova for desert, which went perfectly with the desert chardonay she'd ordered. All the parings we experienced fit perfectly. All in all a splendid meal, marrying Jetsons ambience with A Christmas Carol resonance. A great way to start autumn too.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Carthage Cafe, minus elephants

A rave review of this new Tunisian place brought me and my friend Terry to The Carthage Cafe last Sunday. The website said it opened at 4:00 but when we arrived there at that hour, we were told to come back in half an hour and directed to a delightful bar accross the street on Commercial Drive. Thankfully the open sign was finally we turned on and we entered the small, comfortable cafe in search of Hannibal's treasures. Didn't see any elephants though.
I wanted to eat something that one would find in a restaurant in Tunisia and the Tunisian Salad promised authenticity. Diced apple and other salad ingredients in an herb dressing. Very refreshing. I can imagine, with Roman legions pounding at his front door, Hannibal could transport himself to a happier realm just by nibbling on some herbed apple.

The server reccommended the halibut, which Terry had decided to have even before we got to the Cafe, after consulting the review and the menu at Carthage's website. Although there are no halibut anywhere near Tunisia, we were told the preparation was authentic. A cumin reduction. Tasted vaguely Indian. Terry couldn't stop raving about it. I was intimidated just looking at this vast collection of food, seemingly more of an elephant meal than something a human could attempt.

The coquilles St. Jacques was superb. The thick cheesy sauce perfectly melded the scallops into the potatoes. This is supposed to be a small meal? Possibly for an elephant. I had to take it home to finish later. Amazingly good.

I also ordered the prawns. They weren't bad, but not in the same league as the scallops. I think there sauce wasn't thick enough.
We didn't have any desert and drank only water with our meal so it was quite cheap. A great addition to Vancouver's growing list of national cuisines from around the globe.